Victoria and Qld police can also access COVID app data

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The Victorian and Queensland state governments have confirmed the police can access data from their respective COVID-19 QR code check-in apps but require a warrant to do so.

The confirmation follows Western Australia introducing urgent legislation to stop police from accessing its own contact tracing service.

Earlier this week it was revealed that the WA Police Force had twice accessed data from the state’s own contact tracing check-in app as part of two criminal investigations. This was done legally, and led the WA government to introduce legislation preventing data from the app to be used for anything other than contact tracing.

It has also been revealed that WA Police accessed information from the G2G pass, used to gain entry in and out of the state, more than a dozen times for criminal investigations.

On Wednesday it was revealed that Victoria Police also have access to the state’s COVID-19 QR code-based check in app. Police in Victoria can access information from this service with a court-issued warrant, government services minister Danny Pearson confirmed.

“There is capacity for Victoria Police to seek a warrant to seek information,” Mr Pearson told a PAEC hearing.

Acting Premier James Merlino has said he is not aware of this actually happening, but it’s unclear whether the state government will be legislating to prevent it occurring.

This is also the case in Queensland, with a government spokesperson confirming police can access information through the state’s Check in QLD app with a warrant, but this is yet to actually happen.

“Queensland Police have not accessed the data held by the Check in QLD app,” a Department of the Digital Economy spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“The Privacy Policy indicates that information collected using the Check in QLD app may be disclosed to public health officers within Queensland Health and Hospital and Health Services for the purposes of contact tracing, or where the use or disclosure is authorised or required by law.”

The spokesperson said that data from the app is deleted after 56 days, and that this is a “verified and irreversible process inbuilt into this secure storage system”.

The New South Wales government has said that police cannot access data from its own QR code check-in app, with this restriction baked into the public health order.

There are ongoing concerns that the prospect of the police accessing contact tracing information will undermine confidence in the system and prevent some people being truthful with health authorities and checking into venues around the country, as is currently required.

The Western Australian government announced it was urgently legislating to restrict access to its app data on Tuesday, after it was unable to convince its police force from doing so.

“The principal purpose of [the app] is to help us deal with any outbreaks. It’s not to help us solve crime. We’re legislating to make that very clear,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

But the WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson defended the use of this data, saying it was in the interest of the broader community.

“I accept that people don’t always read fine print on insurance policies or whatever, and this is a very important principle, but the police have only got information twice out of 240 million transactions and they were exceptional circumstances, and it is lawful,” Mr Dawson told 6PR Radio.

“This is not for police purposes. This is for the community of Western Australia.”

It’s understood police accessed data from the app in order to find potential witnesses to a crime committed near a cafe.

Police access to data from the federal government’s COVIDSafe contact tracing app was a key reason the Coalition introduced legislation early last year restricting authorities access to this information for any reason other than contact tracing by state health departments.

An Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security report this week revealed that while authorities are still “incidentally” collecting data from COVIDSafe, they are not accessed it or decrypting it.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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